Leading a Vision to Zero: Q&A with Keith T. Kerman

Deputy Commissioner at New York City’s Department of Citywide Administrative Services (DCAS) and the City’s first Chief Fleet Officer

Today, Together for Safer Roads joined New York City at its 30th Annual Equipment & Vehicle Show to highlight the organizations supporting NYC’s Vision Zero and Clean Fleet initiatives, including TSR member companies AB InBev, AT&T, PepsiCo, and Geotab. During the Show, we had the opportunity to sit down with NYC’s Chief Fleet Officer Keith T. Kerman to learn about his role in Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero.

Q: How is New York City’s Fleet helping to end traffic deaths and injuries on NYC streets?

A: New York City experienced its safest year on record in 2017. It was our fourth straight year of fatality declines. Since NYC became the first American city to adopt Vision Zero in 2014, the city’s traffic fatalities have declined 28 percent with a 45 percent decline in pedestrian fatalities. The decrease in NYC has taken place while fatalities nationwide increased more than 15 percent.

With over 30,000 vehicles, NYC’s Fleet is the largest single fleet that operates in NYC and has an important role to play as part of Vision Zero. City owned vehicles have been part of the overall reduction in fatality events. In 2014, as Vision Zero was first launching, there were eight fatal events involving City vehicles in non-emergency response activities through July 2014. In the almost four years since, there have been four total fatality events.

Working in partnership with our sister agencies, Fleet has implemented a wide-ranging set of initiatives. We trained more than 44,000 staff in safe driving, created a first Citywide tracking system for collisions called CRASH, and barred hands-free use of cell phones by drivers.

Additionally, at last year’s fleet show in May 2017, we published a first Safe Fleet Transition Plan (SFTP) in conjunction with the US DOT Volpe Center. The plan stipulates that all vehicles purchased for Fiscal Year 18 and beyond must include the best available safety technology including, where applicable, automatic emergency braking, rear and side truck guards, and back up cameras. At this year’s show, we are announcing the procurement of more than 12,000 new safety components for City vehicles as part of the SFTP. This includes the installation of over 1,750 truck sideguards on NYC Fleet vehicles, making it the largest program of its kind in the nation. Sideguards have been shown to reduce the deadliness of truck collisions with pedestrians by 20 percent and with bicyclists by 60 percent.

Q: It’s clear NYC Fleet is at the forefront of investing in technology solutions. What’s next for NYC Fleet’s tech-enabled interventions?

A: One of our Vision Zero initiatives is to partner with private sector fleets and fleet technology firms to advance safety more broadly for the fleet industry. As large a fleet as we operate, most vehicles operating in NYC are privately owned.

NYC Fleet currently uses vehicle tracking devices, fleet management systems, and preventative safety solutions for analyzing fleet safety information and behaviors. But every day, emerging and large companies are bringing new safety technologies to market. We’re committed to working collaboratively with these companies to test new technologies for effectiveness, as well as promote shared access to relevant data, to improve safety. That’s exactly why we’ve partnered with Together for Safer Roads—to tap into its network so we can foster innovation and conduct strategic benchmarking. NYC also recently announced partnerships to analyze fleet data with local universities.

For example, we know road fatalities are at higher risk when involving the intersection of people, vehicles, and roadways. Our 2017 Safe Fleet Transition Plan includes the study and assessment of new safety technologies. NYC Fleet and Together for Safer Roads are discussing how different new technologies could mitigate this risk particularly involving large, slow-moving vehicles and trucks that frequently come in contact with general road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists.

Q: How is NYC Fleet creating a culture of safety for its drivers that operate the City’s 27,000 owned and leased vehicles?

A: At NYC Fleet we issue Citywide policies and rules for vehicle and fleet operations, such as the NYC Fleet Management Manual and the City Vehicle Driver Handbook. But, just as important, we’re now offering the NY State Defensive Driving program, free of charge, to all authorized City Vehicle operators. The course is a full day and focuses on best practices for safe vehicle operation and has a new section we developed specific to Vision Zero.

DCAS also partners with agencies like DOT and TLC on training initiatives. DOT, TLC, and Families for Safe Streets developed a powerful video, called “Drive Like Your Family Lives Here” which is shown at all our trainings. NYC Taxi & Limousine Commission also recently developed Safety First: Vision Zero Training for Professional Drivers to review five dangerous driving scenarios related to speeding, sharing the road with bicyclists, fatigued driving, distracted driving, and left turns.

Additionally, the tech-enabled interventions are directly improving our safety culture. By installing the recording units in all fleet vehicles, we monitor speed and location information, idling, seatbelt use, and maintenance codes, as well as to manage usage and fueling. These units do not impact the operation of the vehicle and do not require any action by the driver, but help us better understand and improve our speeding and safety practices as we work to reduce collisions.

Q: Lastly, why are you driven to save lives?

A: In my hometown in Massachusetts, three students in my high school homeroom died in vehicle related incidents, one other was badly injured, and my next-door neighbor also lost her life, soon after getting a license. I delayed getting a driver’s license early in my life, deciding it might be better to survive and get to college. These issues impact and threaten all of us, especially young people, and there is an enormous amount we can do to make the roads safer. As part of Vision Zero, Fleet has a role it can play both locally and more generally, and it’s something all of us at DCAS feel strongly about.